Laguna Beach City Council nixes proposal to ban tobacco, vape sales

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Smoking in public areas in Laguna Beach has been subject to fines since 2017. Photo by Jody Tiongco.

The Laguna Beach City Council rejected a proposal Tuesday to ban the sale of tobacco and vaping products in the city limits.

The City Council voted 2-3 (Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf, and Councilmember Peter Blake dissented) on a proposal introduced by Councilmember George Weiss to direct city staffers to research, analyze, and present a new city law outlawing tobacco and vaping sales, with exceptions for sales made within hotels and cigar shops.

In light of a nationwide spike in vaping among underaged teenagers and young adults, Weiss argued Laguna Beach needed to join cities of Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach in taking a stand against tobacco companies.

“When I was running for election I walked the streets a lot and find vaping products on the street,” Weiss said. “And I know those vaping products were purchase by… teens. Teenage vaping is a huge problem and the state recognized it recently and has taxed vaping products… That’s a good step from the state but I think we need to go further to protect that vulnerable class of teens.”

Some Beverly Hills hoteliers objected to the proposed ban because they sell cigarettes to guests by room service, Weiss said. He suggested considering a carveout for Laguna Beach hotels and small businesses signaling their bottom lines would be damaged by the proposed ban

Laguna Beach has already outlawed smoking in public places since 2017. Laguna Beach police officers are tasked with enforcing the ban but lacked the staffing until recently to crack down on smokers lighting up at city trailheads. The department is currently recruiting for a park ranger position to help with this and other nuisances thanks to a recent increase in metered parking rates.

Kempf shared she’s never been a smoker but would prefer the city avoid adopting laws that could invite legal challenges by the tobacco industry.

“These tobacco companies have deep pockets and I don’t want to be one of the cities they come after,” she said.

Tobacco and vaping product sales in California are restricted to those who are at least 21 years old, Whalen said. He suggested cracking down on any retailer who is cheating the system by selling to underage customers.

In addition to the public health and addiction concerns, Weiss said banning tobacco sales would benefit the environment by cutting the number of butts found during trail and beach clean-up days. Carelessly discarded cigarettes also create a wildfire hazard in a drought where vegetation is extremely dry.

Orange County environmental advocate Hoiyin Ip said banning tobacco and vaping product sales would demonstrate Laguna Beach’s commitment to social and environmental justice.

“Some people also defend [tobacco companies] saying ‘well it’s the freedom to smoke,’” Ip said. “Well, addiction is anything but freedom.”

Ip also suggested councilmembers reconsider the outdoor smoking ban to also include no smoking in common areas of apartment buildings.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. As a non-smoker and non-vaper I appreciate the LB no smoking in public ordinance.
    However, Councilman Weiss’ proposal would have banned products for purchase that are legal for 21 and over. Just as alcohol, sugar, marijuana and on line betting are legal (with questionable health risks) and available for purchase/use, why only close down cigarette and vape businesses in town, especially during the pandemic? Jobs and revenue are essential to these small businesses as much as to the liquor stores and bakeries.

    If any business is selling alcohol, tobacco or vape products to underage they should be cited.

    Weiss stated, in his ordinance proposal at the last council meeting, that he’d exempt cigars from the ban. I am puzzled over this reasoning because cigars also expose people to nicotine, secondhand smoke, cancer, lung & heart disease and oral disease. Bottom line – adults have to make their own informed choices, within the parameters of the law.

    There is no research that shows that tobacco or vape litter is created more by minors than adult users, as Weiss claims. All trash is harmful to our environment and I appreciate signage around town preventing use of such products in public that create litter.

    We cannot regulate every aspect of people’s personal lives. When it affects others, such as secondhand smoke and driving under the influence, we have regulations within our country and community.

  2. Another good recap article in the Indy. As someone who hikes on our vulnerable-to-fire wilderness trails, there are a lot of cigarette butts and vaping cartridges littering the grounds. They are also all over our beaches. (Yes, I pick them up until my trash bag is too full). The advantage of limiting or outlawing the sale of tobacco products might make it harder for those who smoke on our trails to do so since they would need to go further afield to make a purchase. We’re in a high fire zone, folks, and we can’t really demand that our police and fire department patrol our trails for smokers. Remember, it was a smoker that was reputed to have started our ’93 fire.

  3. This is absolutely asinine. Vaping products are extremely toxic to both adolescent and mature lungs. This makes absolutely no sense to me that we have city council members who are putting tobacco industry ahead of the health of our community especially of our youth. The argument that the sales are going to hurt hotel revenue is ridiculous. If people want to smoke or vape badly enough they will prepare and bring the product with them. These are extremely toxic substances that have been designed to target our youth with special flavors. This is a shameful decision and when you follow bad policy it’s important to look for where the money is coming from to support bad decisions. The city council members should not be reelected if not removed immediately for this decision.

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